Tonight via web cast Fred Thompson will be officially announcing his candidacy for the 2008 Republican nomination. Thompson has decided to skip a Republican debate in New Hampshire and instead run a three pronged multimedia announcement strategy. Besides the web cast, Thompson will also run a commercial during the debate and later appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I have read this strategy repeatedly described as Hollywood, but I think that description completely misses the strategic point.

Fred Thompson’s momentum hasn’t been built on his tiny bit of celebrity. The Thompson campaign is being fueled by Republican supporters who are unhappy with the candidates currently in the field. Thompson is popular to some because he has been able to play the role of political outsider. Skipping the debate and instead running a campaign commercial reinforces the perception that Thompson isn’t like those eight guys on the stage in New Hampshire. His campaign is creating the image of Thompson as the candidate who is separate from the pack.

Having Thompson appear on The Tonight Show after the debate will allow him to have an exclusive national audience. Thompson will also have the advantage of being able to watch the debate and react to it in an unchallenged way. Each of these appearances is carefully meant to manage and define his image, but at some point Thompson will have to mix it up with the other candidates. The strategy the Thompson campaign is using is meant to hide his weaknesses as a candidate. Those weaknesses include not being the most exciting public speaker and debater.

Originally the Thompson campaign was supposed to launch a few months ago, and the big questions with Thompson still revolve around whether he will be able to build a solid national organization in just a few months, and how well he will hold up once he is an official candidate and the national spotlight is on him?

My own prediction is that the battle for the GOP nomination will be a dog fight between the Northern moderate Giuliani, and the Southern conservative Thompson. I think Thompson would be an easier candidate for the Democrats to beat than Giuliani, but he seems to be more acceptable to the core of the Republican Party. No matter what happens Fred Thompson will make the 2008 race more competitive, and for people like me who love to write about politics, this is a very good thing.

Jason Easley is the editor of the Politics Zone at His column The Political Universe appears on 411 every Tuesday and Friday.

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